Grade one students at Ecole St. Elizabeth. Some 11,000 children moved into new P3 schools this fall in Saskatchewan. Photo courtesy of the Government of Saskatchewan

Saskatchewan opens nine new Catholic schools

By  REGAN SEIDLER, Catholic Register Special
  • October 24, 2017
REGINA – In the wake of the province invoking the notwithstanding clause to protect Catholic education, Saskatchewan’s Catholic school system is undergoing the largest expansion in the province’s history.

Nine new Catholic schools opened this fall. This comes after a court order last April that said the province could no longer fund non-Catholic students in Catholic schools. That caused Premier Brad Wall’s government to invoke the seldom-used notwithstanding clause to overrule the court and affirm Catholic education in the province.

The court case was led by public school divisions which hoped to recapture about 10,000 students — and the dollars that go with them. Despite some initial fears that the ruling could result in Catholic school closures, the opposite is occurring.

Parents, free to choose a school system for their children, are choosing Catholic.

In addition to three new Regina schools, Saskatoon is opening four new schools, and new schools have opened in Warman and Martensville, bedroom communities of Saskatoon that previously had no Catholic schools. 

Diane Boyko, chair of Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools, sees it as a sign that families of all faiths recognize value in Catholic education.

“Parents have made a decision to embrace Catholic education. That’s the most important endorsement that we could have,” she said.

The provincial government paid for the construction of all nine schools.

“That’s encouraging for us as a school division and encouraging, I think, for the future of Catholic education in the province,” Boyko said. “We don’t want to take anything for granted, but we interpret that as a good, positive thing, and the level of investment as an endorsement for us as Catholic schools.”

Wall’s government announced within days of the April court ruling that it would use its constitutional power, known as the notwithstanding clause, to protect the Catholic system.

“We support school choice including public, separate and faith-based schools,” Wall said. 

“We will defend school choice for students and parents. By invoking the notwithstanding clause we are protecting the rights of parents and students to choose the schools that work best for their families, regardless of their religious faith.”

It’s a different story in Alberta. Some high-profile Albertans, including former education minister Dave King, have used the Saskatchewan court ruling to campaign for the abolishment of Catholic divisions.

King’s cause has been joined by former Edmonton Catholic school trustee Patricia Grell, who has called for the merger of the public and Catholic systems.  

“I do not believe that Catholic schools are any better academically, socially or even spiritually than their public counterparts,” Grell wrote in an appeal to voters.

With the future of their schools potentially on the line, Alberta voters elected new trustees on Oct. 16. Grell did not stand for a second term and many of those she endorsed were defeated.

Proponents of a strong Catholic system were also elected in Calgary, including trustee Margaret Belcourt.

“Why would anyone want to change a system that works so well?” said Belcourt.

“Catholic trustees must be vigilant in standing up and protecting their constitutional right for Catholic education.”

Alberta is not alone in facing amalgamation pressures. The question often arises in Ontario, and even Saskatchewan Catholic schools face pressure to some extent.

“We’ve always had to validate the existence of what it means to have Catholic divisions within Saskatchewan,” said  Boyko.

“But parents have spoken. They believe in Catholic education.”

 For parent John Starosta, that means his daughter Tiana will start Grade 1 in Warman’s new Holy Trinity Catholic School, rather than traveling south to Saskatoon.

“It’s totally amazing and awesome,” said Starosta. “To me, this is a sign of providence and blessing.  I feel very encouraged.”

Saskatchewan’s new schools were built through a public-private partnership. Included in the agreement is a 30-year maintenance contract to keep the schools in good repair.

With the government on their side, Catholic parents feel at ease.

“I think we’re pretty privileged in Saskatchewan, in particular because it’s been a part of our history since we started as a province,” Starosta said.

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.